Why 2023 was the warmest year ever, and what happens now

GS Paper III

News Excerpt: 

As per Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), 2023 was the warmest year since records began in 1850, and 2023 was 1.48° C warmer than the average of the 1850-1900 pre-industrial level.

More about the news: 

  • The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) also said in November last year that 2023 was set to emerge as the warmest year on record.
  • Rising temperatures contributed to a large number of extreme weather events around the world in 2023, including heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. 
  • About 50% of days were more than 1.5°C warmer than the 1850-1900 level — and two days in November were, for the first time, more than 2°C warmer.
  • Global daily average sea surface temperature (SST) also went off the charts. Since mid-March 2023, the daily average SST has been the highest ever.
  • Sea ice extent in Antarctica plummeted to a new low. In September, it reached an annual maximum of 16.96 million sq km, which was 1.03 million sq km less than the previous record low set in 1986.

Main reasons for 2023 being the warmest:

  • Greenhouse Gas Concentrations: 
    • In 2023, greenhouse gas concentrations reached the highest levels ever recorded in the atmosphere. 
    • Carbon dioxide concentrations in 2023 were 2.4 parts per million (ppm) higher than in 2022; methane concentrations increased by 11 parts per billion (ppb).
  •  El Niño: 
    • The onset of El Niño last year, after seven years, played a role. It increased the likelihood that temperature records would be broken, and there would be more extreme heat in many parts of the world and the ocean.

El Nino

  • El Niño is a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. 
  • It is the “warm phase” of a larger phenomenon called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
  • It occurs irregularly at two- to seven-year intervals. However, El Niño is not a regular cycle or predictable in the normal sense.

Way Forward:

  • A long-term breach of the 1.5-degree limit would unleash far more severe climate change impacts, including more frequent and severe droughts, heatwaves, and rainfall.
  • The World Metrological Organisation (WMO) in its 2023 State of Global Climate report said there was a 66% chance that at least one of the years between 2023 and 2027 would cross the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Thus, we need a collective effort from all the stakeholders to reduce rising temperatures and thus prevent severe consequences.

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